This year is Caves 16th anniversary. Please tell us how you feel about it.
I’ve only been at Cave for the last two years, so I really cant comment on the 14 years prior to my arriving here. However, I can now look at Cave from the point of view of a staff member and also from the point of view of a fan – and I can see many things. To most of our fans, this company seems to be making only shooting games - but the size of the department responsible for this is actually relatively small when compared to other departments. When I came to Cave I felt strange because what people think is going on here is actually very different from the way things actually are. Honestly, with the way the market for shooting games is these days, how long do you imagine we as a company could survive in this world? I’m not speaking only of this section, but the company as a whole may not exist in the future. I can’t deny the possibility. I think it would be difficult for Cave as a company to continue if they only published shooting games in the future. We need to be creating new genres of games in the next two or three years in order to survive. I’m currently in the process of thinking of new ideas for coming years. Coming up with new ideas and making new games is one of our attempts at growing.
What did you do before you started working at Cave?
I did many things. When I first got into the world of programming games I had a lot of worries because I didn't have a direction. “Making games looks like fun” was my entire reason for entering this world, but the reality is very difficult. In the beginning I was often too busy to even get a nights sleep. I think the only reason I got through this early period in my career is because of the “Power of Youth”. When I first joined Cave my job was to test completed games. This was all day, everyday. People thought I was lucky because not only could I play a lot of games, but I also made my living doing it. However, I only felt agony. Now I don't even play the games I make because of this agonizing past experience - never mind the games of others. I’ve made many games in my career here at Cave, but honestly I’ve played very few of them. Since I began working at this company, I don’t have any videogames in my house. I think if I were to play the games that I make I would only feel regret for the things that I could have or should have done. I’m far too critical of the way things turn out. Its better to turn this energy into creating new games rather than dwelling on what I could have done with games I have finished.
You’ve lost a lot of weight, haven’t you? Is this a result of working for Cave?
Yeah, it’s true – I have lost a lot of weight since I started here. This happened during my first project because I just had too much stress. When I joined the team, there was no direction, I was given no advice, not even an outline of what I should be doing or what management was expecting. During that period of time I used all of my life energy either working or worrying. I was a bit chubby then, so perhaps the weight loss was for the best. The culture here at Cave is such that when we finish one title, we immediately move on to our next project. We honestly don’t have a break between releases. Cave doesn’t give us any breaks, so it’s difficult to stay healthy. In my case I never have only one game that I’m working on – it’s usually two or three so I’m probably busy beyond what you can imagine.
Without a doubt, the most difficult point in my life here at Cave so far was between September 2009 and May 2010. This was during the XBOX 360 releases of Mushihime-sama, Galuda II Black, and Deathsmiles IIX. Not only was I behind the scenes programming these games, but I also had to attend our matsuri events as well as attend press conferences and game conventions. You’ll notice that the time I mentioned falls within “Golden Week” (Japans week long national holiday) but even then I was in the warehouse packing CDs for FedEX. I honestly have no vacation time here. I wish that we as a company weren’t doing so many things at once, because I’d really like to have some time off.
You sound like a busy guy, do you have any personal time?
Honestly, no. I didn’t have a single day off from October 2009 to May 2010. I was here at work on New Years Eve. Even with so much work, the only game I’ve ever delivered on schedule has been Galuda II Black.
Sounds like you’ve given up a lot to work at Cave. Do you have time for any hobbies?
No. No time for hobbies. I liked playing games before, but I really don't feel like playing any now. When I was younger, I was really into video games. Actually, I take that back - My hobby is horse racing. I’ve written about horse racing, and I even wrote a horse racing game. I really got into it when I was about 20 years old. Once, when I was working for another company I got an 800,000 yen bonus ($10,000 USD) and I blew it all at the horse races. Well, I didn’t “blow” it, because I ended up winning about 4 times that amount. I spent all of the money that night going to Ginza with 20-30 of my closest friends. Actually, not only did I spend all of the money by the following morning, but I was actually in debt. These days I’m not so foolish with my money, but if there’s a horse I’m sure of I’ll throw in a bit of money on him. A while back there was a horse that I really liked to bet on but he retired. My friend owns a horse, and I went to the celebration of his first win. (sigh) That was a happy time in my life.
That's a great hobby! So when did you start playing games?
I played my first video game in Kindergarten. It was one of Nintendo’s “Game and Watch” handhelds. Looking back now, these were very simple games with easy patterns and yet I was completely absorbed by it. After I played it so much and it became too easy I began to make my own rules such as “don't jump more than twice”. With those new rules I felt as if I had created a new game. In addition to the Game and Watch, my family had a series of home computers such as the MSX, SG-1000 II and the Sega Mark III. I played many types of games on these systems, but I had never played shooting games such as what I make now. When I was hired by Cave I played a shooting game for the first time, and I actually didn't know what to do.
Being a producer now, what do you put emphasis on?
The most important thought to a producer is “How many games can we sell?” A producer doesn't make games, but I am responsible for the budget and sales. If these sales can’t support the budget than we go into the red. You obviously can’t run a company that way. We must sell as many games as possible in order to keep our company profitable. If we can’t release games on schedule and sell them in significant numbers then we need to cut the budget. I’m constantly worrying about the budget because I’m the one responsible for it. My title is producer, but in fact I do all sorts of odd jobs as well.
Would you say that you and IKD both do work beyond your job titles?
Well, everyone in this section does! In my case I must budget, plan the games as well as organize public events. It’s probably fairly easy for most people to understand what making a game is like. Think about the construction industry. Even with people being hired and fired, people going on vacation, etc buildings still must be constructed on time. When one construction project is finished they move on to the next with little to no interest at looking back on what they have completed. Maybe a construction worker will have a bit of time off between one project and the next, but here at Cave we get absolutely no vacation time. When we we’re making Deathsmiles II X, I actually stayed here at the company offices for more than 100 days. Sleeping here, eating here, everything.
I wish that our company policy were to concentrate on one project at a time. I feel like when I’m so busy I can’t pay proper attention to catching problems or squashing bugs. Each time a project is finished I reflect a bit on my faults and promise myself I wont make the same mistakes again. As you can probably guess, this is much easier said than done. When I’m asked to tackle so many tasks at once I try to prioritize them by how important they are, but I feel that I can’t do any of the tasks well.
It seems like everyone here at the Cave offices are really friendly with each other. Is this true?
I really don’t get to see my team so much these days because I’m not spending so much time at the office anymore. When I do get a chance to check in it’s usually at night when I go for my walk. My house is actually quite close to the Cave offices and is quite well equipped for business these days, so most anything that needs to be done I feel I can do better from home.
It’s not we don’t get along. I’m their manager, and I don't want to have this air of importance about me. My staff are all much more experienced than me. Most of them have worked here at Cave for more than 10 years, so they work well together and have learned each others rhythms and mannerism. I can say that my staff members are a very earnest group of people. If there’s anyone here that neglects their duties, it’s without a doubt myself. But they’re a good group. When people come to the Cave festivals they may think that working at Cave is this crazy experience and that the staff are all wildmen, but the truth is that we are all working very earnestly and quietly . It’s bad business to quarrel with the people you work with, so I never do.
Our staff works very well together, and the beginning of a project usually goes something like this: At first I tell the staff my overall plan that I hope we can accomplish. After that they get to work and fulfill their duties. I sometimes check their work, sometimes I don't. If their work is different from my overall intention I’ll pull them aside and let them know that they are straying from the intended goal.
So would you say you meddle in other peoples affairs?
Yes, I do! In fact, just the other day I took some photos of my staff during my break time and I ordered some custom Tirol chocolates with the wrappers being these photographs. I wanted to start making them in bulk and sell these chocolates at the last Cave matsuri, but they all refused to allow me. Those things cost me 3000 yen to make!
You’re the main event planner for the Cave matsuris now, if given a chance are there any other events you would like to hold?
Currently we only have two chances a year to interact in a somewhat direct manner with our fans. I’d like to do something where the staff directly interact with the people who support us. I was in the early stages of planning a sports festival where our staff would compete in various events against our fans, but the legal department informed me that this was definitely not happening as we couldn't afford the liability of someone getting injured. Just the other day Mr. Inoue held a sports festival with his friends in the park. He even had trophies to hand out! If they were playing a sport and didn't have some item of equipment they needed, they would just ask strangers if they could borrow them. Japan is unique in that adults hold these silly events that don't mean anything and yet they take them so seriously. It’s completely crazy, I admit. I want to do crazy things like that.
Is it difficult to keep the fans of Cave happy?
Our customers are constantly telling us to improve their online experience during the Cave internet matsuris. We’ve changed the system several times but it’s difficult to affect any meaningful change. When so many people around the world are accessing the site at the same time, our systems quite literally freeze up. We’ve spent a lot of money recently trying to improve the system, but it looks as if nothing has changed. We sell products during the Cave online matsuri because we recognize that not everyone lives near Tokyo and can access our products easily. I’m always considering how can we improve our users online experience. After all, if there weren’t fans willing to part with their money in our interest there would be no Cave. We really need to address this problem, but I’m only a lowly producer in the shooting games section.
Thank you very much for your time, I expect that we will be hearing much more from you in the future.